Just before midnight on a recent evening, Chris Loman was still busy checking people in and out of the Oak Tree Inn in Gillette, Wyoming. She asked one guest about his wife and ribbed another about a past visit.

“They’re like family to me,” Loman said. “And I am to them.”

The Oak Tree Inn is not a typical hotel. It has private rooms, key cards, and fresh towels, but most of its guests work for BNSF, one of the nation’s largest railroads. Until recently, the entire hotel was under contract to the railroad.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

New rules from the Department of the Interior aim to close what many have called a loophole in how federal coal resources are valued.

Most of the coal mined in Wyoming is owned by the federal government. Companies pay royalties for the right to mine that coal—in theory, 12.5 percent of the sale price.

In a reversal of its previous position, Arch Coal now says it would likely be able to obtain third-party insurance for its clean-up obligations in Wyoming, if necessary. 

Arch is currently allowed to self-bond its more than $400 million in reclamation obligations in the state, meaning it has promised to pay for future clean-up, but has not been asked to guarantee that promise with third-party insurance or cash. 

The Bureau of Land Management


Regulators heard from all sorts of people, from firefighters to business owners to coal miners, at a meeting in Grand Junction, CO today on potential reforms to the federal coal program. 

American taxpayers are receiving less than they should from the sale of publicly-owned coal according to a report released by the White House today.

When coal companies mine federal coal, they pay a fee on each ton, a royalty payment. 

Stephanie Joyce

As Alpha Natural Resources looks to emerge from bankruptcy, the government is opposing the company’s plan to transfer its federal coal leases to a new company. The Department of Justice argues Alpha’s current reorganization plan doesn’t adequately address the company’s cleanup obligations.

Alpha’s plan calls for selling off its most valuable assets to a group of its creditors, who would form a new company with them. Those assets include the company's Wyoming mines, which are on federal land. 

 A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate today by Senator Maria Cantwell (D- WA) would ensure coal mine cleanup costs would get more expensive for coal companies. Under current regulations, some companies pay little to nothing to make sure coal mine cleanup – or reclamation – gets done. This bill would change that. Confused? Let me explain!

Wyoming Schools Chief Jillian Balow testified before a U.S. Congressional committee Tuesday in favor of a bill that would end the federal suspension on coal leases.

The Certainty for States and Tribes Act would also reinstate the Interior Department’s Royalty Policy Committee, which proponents say would ensure that states relying on revenue from federal land are treated fairly.

Credit Wikimedia Commons

The University of Wyoming and nine other institutions have formed a coalition to study how fossil fuels can be used more efficiently and with less environmental impact.

The coalition led by Penn State is being funded by the United States Department of Energy, which recently gave a $20 million grant to the group. The funding will help the schools look further into issues such as carbon storage and natural gas infrastructure.

Duncan Harris, Flickr Creative Commons

Nebraska-based Kiewit Corporation announced today that 45 positions will be cut from its Gillette mine. In 2015, around 218 workers were employed at Buckskin Mine, Kiewit's only in the state.  


In a statement, company spokesperson Tom Janssen wrote:   


"Unfortunately, the coal market remains extremely challenging. Low natural gas prices, low overall power demand and high coal stockpiles at utility power plants has significantly reduced our customers’ 2016 coal needs."


Coal production during in the first quarter of 2016 was the lowest its been since 1981. According to the US Energy Information Administration, coal production in the Power River Basin dropped nearly 30% from the fourth quarter of 2015. That is a bigger drop than in any other region.

Demand for coal is down because of low natural gas prices, competition from renewables, and environmental regulations. An unusually warm winter also reduced demand, so companies cut production.

Stephanie Joyce

Earlier this year, on a conference call with investors, the head of one of the nation's largest coal companies shocked those tuned in with a frank admission.  Colin Marshall is CEO of Cloud Peak Energy:

"As we look forward, it is clear that the dynamics of the coal industry have permanently changed," he said. “Where coal used to provide baseload generation, it is now much more variable depending on power demand, renewable output, and the price of natural gas."

The largest consumer of Wyoming coal is projecting a shift to solar in the next 15 years.

Texas consumed 58 million tons of Wyoming coal in 2014, more than any other state, but many of that state’s coal fired power plants are headed for retirement, and Texas’ grid operator anticipates those will be replaced with solar power.

Stephanie Joyce

A bankruptcy judge has given Alpha Natural Resources approval to move its restructuring plan to a vote, over the objections of the federal government.

The government had argued Alpha didn’t provide enough detail about various parts of the plan, including how the company plans to pay for mine reclamation, for creditors to fully evaluate it, but the bankruptcy judge disagreed.

Donald Trump laid out his thoughts on U.S. energy policy during a speech today at an oil industry conference in Bismarck, North Dakota.  

Trump spent much of his time bashing what he referred to as Hillary Clinton's "extremist agenda."


As for his agenda, Trump wants to bring back jobs in coal, oil, and gas by rolling back what he called an onslaught of federal regulations and also by producing more fossil fuels.


Stephanie Joyce

The federal government has filed an objection to Alpha Natural Resources’ plan for emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy


Environmentalists, lawmakers, coal miners, and advocates of all types gathered to have their say at a public meeting this week, in Casper, Wyo, hosted by the Department of the Interior (DOI). Like most discussions of the future of coal, the debate was passionate and polarized.

“This is a politically motivated sham, pandering to the political allies of the secretary and the administration,” Richard Reavey, an executive at a coal company called Cloud Peak Energy, said in his public remarks.

With three of the four largest American coal companies in bankruptcy, a federal regulator gave a blunt assessment today of potential problems with future coal mine clean up. The Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement (OSMRE) is asking for public comment on how to make sure that coal mine reclamation is paid for.  


The Bureau of Land Management

Coal miners, state lawmakers, environmentalists and land advocates all came together in Casper today to weigh in on coal. 

Robert van Waarden /

The debate about whether or not humans are warming the planet is essentially over – ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that we are. But the debate over tactics, about how to reduce our carbon emissions, is just starting to heat up.

Federal officials are objecting to a coal company's plan to restructure and emerge from bankruptcy, because, they say, it looks a lot more like a plan to liquidate. 

On Monday, a bankruptcy court judge has approved Alpha Natural Resource's request to cancel labor agreements and reduce retiree benefits for unionized workers. 

In court documents, Alpha writes that it is fighting to survive as the coal industry collapses. Cutting these obligations, the company argues, is necessary if it is going to restructure and get out of bankruptcy.  


Stephanie Joyce

Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. fell by 12% in 2015, compared to 2005 levels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

The EIA explains that this drop is largely the result of changes in our electricity mix. Over the past decade, shifts in sources of electricity, from coal to natural gas for example, have accounted for 68% of the total decrease in energy-related CO2 emissions. 

Duncan Harris, Flickr Creative Commons

The outlook for the North American coal sector is negative. That's according to a bleak industry report released by the credit ratings agency Moody’s, on Friday.  


Listen To U.S. Coal Production Fall Off A Cliff

May 6, 2016
Wikimedia Commons

America’s coal industry is hurting: In the past year, thousands of workers have been laid off and a majority of the country’s major coal companies have filed for bankruptcy. Coal production is at 30-year low. Here’s what three decades worth of U.S. coal production looks like:

The drop off in the past year (the orange portion of the graph) is staggering. 

Tim Stubson


State Representative Tim Stubson is the third-ranking member of the Wyoming House of Representatives and a member of the legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee. His next move is to try and replace U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis and become Wyoming’s next Congressman. Stubson is also a Casper attorney. He joins Bob Beck to discuss a couple of key issues starting with the declining coal market.

 Learn more about Stubson and his issues.


Wyoming Public Media

It’s election season, which means politicians are busy promising lots of things, including when it comes to energy. Hillary Clinton has pledged to give $30 billion to coal communities if elected; Donald Trump has promised energy independence. We wondered, if these policies actually came to pass, what would the world look like? Are they good ideas or bad ideas?

Bankrupt coal company Alpha Natural Resources confirmed that it laid off 37 employees today from its two Powder River Basin coal mines.

These cuts follow much larger layoffs last month at two of the country's largest mines, owned by Arch Coal and Peabody Energy. Together, those companies cut around 465 jobs, or about 15%  of the workforce at Peabody's North Antelope Rochelle Mine and Arch's Black Thunder mine. 

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Gail Japp’s bright blue eyes are the kind you keep on noticing. I met the 64-year-old at her home outside of Gillette, Wyoming on a gray, windy, day in April. She had just finishing filling out unemployment paperwork.

Japp is one of the 235 coal miners who were laid off by Peabody Energy in March. Arch Coal cut around 230 positions that same week.

I asked her how she felt that day. Her reply: “Devastated, scared. What in the world am I gonna do? I’m single. I’m 64. I have a mortgage. Am I gonna lose my house?”

Liz Cheney


Republican Liz Cheney is one of ten announced candidates for the soon to be open U.S. House seat. Cheney is the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney who also was Wyoming’s congressman. Ms. Cheney has been an attorney, she’s worked in the U.S. State Department where she worked on U.S. policy in the Middle East. She also was a Fox news contributor and co-authored a book with her father. Today she talks to Bob Beck about energy issues, specifically coal.